Amid rising concerns about China’s growing international data collection apparatus, a newly divided US Congress is applying fresh scrutiny to the possibility that imported Chinese technology could be a Trojan horse.
In a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shared exclusively with WIRED, Representative August Pfluger asks some tough questions as to whether Washington is really prepared for the security threat posed by the coming influx of Chinese-made smart and autonomous vehicles (AVs) to the United States.
“I remain concerned that a lack of US oversight in AV technology has opened the door for a foreign nation to spy on American soil, as Chinese companies potentially transfer critical data to the People’s Republic of China,” Pfluger writes.
While AV technology may be some years away from widespread commercial use, pilot projects are already on the roads around the world. As of earlier this year, more than 1,000 AutoX autonomous taxis were on the roads in California. AutoX, a Chinese startup backed by one of the largest state-owned car companies in the communist country, was granted approval by California in 2020.
As American regulators have green-lit those test projects, Pfluger writes, “there remains a serious lack of oversight regarding their data governance.”
Earlier this year, WIRED reported on the mounting national security issues posed by Chinese-made vehicles. The massive trove of data being collected by these cars could give adversarial states an unprecedented vantage point into the United States and other Western nations. Beijing has already pioneered the use of big-data analytics to identify dissidents at home, and concerns have mounted that those tactics could be deployed abroad.
Pfluger submitted a detailed list of questions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates the use of AVs, and asked the regulator to explain how it has vetted the national security risk posed by these Chinese companies.
“Has NHTSA worked independently, or in collaboration with cities or other local governments to limit or prevent Chinese-owned companies from collecting sensitive information from American…